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Iphone 14 Vs Inreach Featured
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iPhone 14 vs Garmin inReach

The new satellite-based Emergency SOS function on the iPhone 14 is excellent, but can it replace your Garmin inReach device? It depends on your needs and the hiking that you do. 

In this Guide:
  • Real-World Performance Tests
  • How iPhone 14 satellite SOS Works
  • iPhone 14 vs Garmin inReach
  • Recommendations

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iPhone Emergency SOS Infrastructure

Globalstar In Space
As much as I've used satellite communicators, I am always amazed. The iPhone 14 can send and receive messages to satellites traveling at over 16000mph, 876 feet above the earth's surface.

Apple uses the Globalstar satellite network and ground stations to power the Emergency SOS system. You might be familiar with Globalstar; they run the SPOT beacon service, which, once reliable, is now known for having issues. But Apple has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to support the iPhone infrastructure, and it works very well (more later).  

A series of ground stations and relay centers transfer the SOS messages from the satellites to the appropriate 911 / emergency response centers. Some centers are already set up to receive text messages (text-to-911). Messages that cannot be delivered as text are passed on via the new relay centers that Apple has set up. The centers have a staff of over 300 people trained to handle these SOS messages in multiple languages.  

Coverage is limited to several countries. Apple is rolling out the service to more areas over time. Check the Apple support page for specifics on where Emergency SOS via Satellite works.

Triggering an SOS on the iPhone

Iphone 14 Vs Inreach Signal Feedback
The iPhone 14 gives you feedback on what you need to do to get a connection with the satellite. Moving the phone around might be a hassle, but getting visual feedback is helpful and allows you to proactively improve your send and receive times.

One of the clever things is that you don't need to learn any new hardware to invoke SOS. Instead, you dial 911 or whatever your country's emergency number is. If there is a cellular signal, it will connect you that way. If your carrier doesn't have reception, but other carriers are available, the other carriers will patch your call through their network. Only when there is no cellular connection will the option for Emegency SOS via Satellite be available. 

Here are the ways to trigger an SOS:

Once you invoke a satellite SOS, the iPhone will ask you questions about your situation. Apple has crafted these questions with first responders to give them the essential information to start a rescue. The buttons are big, simple, and easy to use in an emergency.

Your questionnaire is packaged with your GPS location and elevation, your Apple Medical ID information, and your phone's battery level and then is compressed before sending to the satellite.

The SOS satellite's orbits are fixed around the earth, and their paths are synced to your phone with a regular data connection (WiFi or cellular). So when it's time to connect to a satellite to send the message, your phone uses the GPS position and internal gyroscope to tell you exactly where to point the phone for an optimal connection and send. 

Follow the instructions and keep the iPhone pointed at the satellite on the screen. When the graphic is green, you have a solid connection. You can also get other messages such as "satellite available soon" or "try to get a clear view of the sky." Apple mentions that the process may degrade under tree cover, but I found it worked great even in a heavy canopy.

Overall the iPhone 14 satellite performance was:

You can test the Emergency SOS function yourself by going to Settings > Emergency SOS > Try Demo.

Once the message is received on the satellite, it's transmitted to a ground station and emergency responders. Like an inReach, the conversation is two-way, and the emergency services will text you. However, unlike an inReach, you can't text anyone like your emergency contacts. But if you've set up an emergency contact in your Apple Health Medical ID, they will get a copy of the interaction along with your location.

Sharing Your Location via Satellite

Iphone 14 Vs Inreach Location Check In
You can share your location (for free) when out of cell phone range using the "Find My" app.

Apple also allows you to manually share your location via satellite using the "Find My" app. So the first thing that you'll want to do is set up your "Find My" friend sharing when at home to ensure that others can see your location sharing.

Sharing via satellite is simple; there's an option under the "Me" tab to share location via satellite. When you are in cellular range, this is disabled. Otherwise, you can click share, and the process is the same as sending an SOS described earlier (minus the emergency questionnaire).

Uses in your "Find My" network will have to check your location manually. There is no alert like when sharing with inReach.

iPhone 14 Emergency SOS Cost

The satellite services I just described are free for two years after activating your iPhone 14. Apple hasn't elaborated on its plans after that, but my educated guess is that satellite SOS will always be free, and services like location sharing will require a fee. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple offered more satellite services, such as non-emergency texting and weather, in the future.

iPhone 14 Satellite SOS vs. Garmin inReach

Iphone 14 Vs Inreach Inreach Mini
A Garmin inReach device isn't a full-featured smartphone, but it does have some satellite connected features, like weather pictured here, that the iPhone does not.

So can the iPhone 14 replace the Garmin inReach? For some people, maybe. I'll make some recommendations shortly. But first, let's take a look at the differences. 

FeatureiPhone 14inReach
DurabilityTough but not an outdoor instrumentAll units built for the outdoors
BatteryLasts about a dayLasts several days
CoverageLimited countriesWorldwide
Emergency HandlingStandard emergency dispatchersBackcountry and worldwide dispatchers
Non-Emergency Text or EmailNoYes
Location SharingManualAutomatic
Satellite WeatherNoYes
Ease of UseVery EasySmall Learning Curve
CostFree For 2 YearsSubscription Fee
WeaknessLimited functionality if screen breaksCumbersome to type messages out on device

The main differentiators for me are the ruggedness and the cost. The inReach devices are proper outdoor instruments that you can easily use in all conditions. But that comes at a price: you need a service plan and a dedicated device. 

To sum it up, the iPhone 14 is a powerful everyday tool with backcountry capabilities. Contrast that with the inReach family, which are purpose-built backcountry tools.

Should You Get the iPhone 14 or inReach?

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This Guide Was Written by Cris Hazzard

Cris Hazzard 4 Mile Trail Yosemite
Hi, I'm Cris Hazzard, aka Hiking Guy, a professional outdoors guide, hiking expert, and author based in Southern California. I created this website to share all the great hikes I do with everyone else out there. This site is different because it gives detailed directions that even the beginning hiker can follow. I also share what hiking gear works and doesn't so you don't waste money. I don't do sponsored or promoted content; I share only the gear recommendations, hikes, and tips that I would with my family and friends. If you like the website and YouTube channel, please support these free guides (I couldn't do it without folks like you!). You can stay up to date with my new guides by following me on YouTube, Instagram, or by subscribing to my monthly newsletter.